Another year, another chance

As the Jefferson City Jays left the field after a season-ending loss to Rock Bridge last November, the streak continued.

Not necessarily a good one. 17 years and counting.

A high school football generation without a state championship.

For most programs, no big deal. One state championship is worth popping the N/A champagne. Memories forever.

The glory days.

But for program with 10 state championships to its credit --- a span of nine in 19 years and 10 in 22 years --- 17 years seems like a lifetime, not a generation.

2014 brings another year, another chance. A lofty goal, to be sure, but it comes with the territory and the burden of being part of one of the most storied programs in state history.

Ted LePage has been a part of three championship teams in three different positions --- as a player at Helias, an assistant coach with the Jays, and head coach and Blair Oaks.

The Central Missouri trifecta, so he knows what it takes. But so far as head coach of the Jays, it hasn't happened.

"Each year is different and each team that wins a state title is different, you can ask any coach and they'd tell you the same thing," LePage said. "But one thing I've noticed about state championship teams, they really care about each other at the end of the day.

"You have to have great talent, there's no secret there. But if they don't care about each other, you're not going to have a very successful team.

"This team has that ... from a chemistry standpoint, this is by far and away the best team I've had at Jeff City going into the season. Having said that, you still have to execute the X's and O's."

But it's not from a lack of want-to.

"Last year didn't end the way we wanted it to, but we played a lot of underclassmen," said LePage, who's 60-28 entering his ninth season with the Jays. "Right away, they just wanted to get in the weight room.

"The seniors decided they wanted the team to be part of the 90 percent club, which is 90 percent participation in each weight room session. It started in December and just built and built and got better every month ... I thought, 'Oh my gosh, we might do this.'

"In the past, we've shot for 80 percent. But I'll be darned if we didn't reach 90 percent. It's one of the best offseasons we've ever had. And we had fun ... these kids come to work every day."

Back to the underclassmen from last year --- this year, the Jays should reap the benefits with 24 seniors on the roster.

"It makes you feel better, because 14 or 15 of them are returning starters," LePage said. "They know what it takes and they know what it's like to be in big games."

Among the team's impact players this season, four are seniors --- tailback Elijah Pittman, slot man Jake Pridgin, and linebackers Austin Gerloff and Travis Burris. LePage also expects junior defensive end Jermeiz Booker to have a breakout season.

"All of those guys are poised to have really, really good years. They all have physical skills and are high-motor guys, and have done everything they can to do to get better."

These guys and the rest of the team will have the luxury of starting the season with a staggering six home games in the first seven weeks.

"I've never of heard of anything like it, it's a first for me," LePage said.ã??"When you run through that tunnel, when they form that spirit line and you see all that Red and Black in the stands, it has an atmosphere like no other in high school football.

"It can't be duplicated.ã??It's special."

With eight starters back on both offense and defense from last year's 6-4 teams, what can those fans in Red and Black expect?

"These guys will never quit, just like last year's team," LePage said. "Eight of nine games last year came down to the last few series in the fourth quarter, and I never saw them quit.ã??This team has that same make-up.

"We don't have the elite, Division I talent, and every team we'll play has four or five of those guys. But we've got a bunch of really, good guys.

"We just want to play each game at our top level. I think winning a district title is a big-time goal, then try to get to the Dome and win it."

A lofty goal.

Another year, another chance.